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It was time for me to put all that aside and get married, they insisted. But I knew there was one way this would end.

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I would go to university and pursue a higher education, maybe even go to America. The Durkheimian conventional wisdom that close-knit families, intimate village life, and traditional social norms protect people against anomie and suicide needs to be rethought.


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Social bonds sometimes constrain people as well as sustaining them; escaping an abusive husband or tyrannical mother-in-law is easier in a city than in a village. Life poses tradeoffs. The unprecedented freedom in modern societies includes the freedom to trade off intimacy for autonomy, and to surrender to temptations that may not be best for us in the long run. We have not hit upon a perfect libertarian paternalism that would somehow nudge everyone into using their freedom wisely.

The Enlightenment will be killed off by its own creations, artificial intelligence and social media. But like the revivification of corpses by electricity, the Artificial General Intelligence that will displace humans is a sci-fi fantasy. In EN, I argued that artificial intelligence is neither going to subjugate us nor inadvertently wipe us out as collateral damage.

Imagine his astonishment at holding a small object that allows him to watch a movie, listen to church music, zoom in on a facsimile of his Principia, illuminate a dark chapel, mirror and magnify his face, take pictures, record sound, count his steps, talk to people anywhere in the world, and instantly carry out arithmetic calculations to many decimal places. Newton might very well guess that the iPhone would work forever without being recharged, like a prism, or transmute lead into gold, his lifelong dream.

And if it becomes indistinguishable from magic, anything one says about it is no longer falsifiable. How will AI join forces with the internet and kill off the Enlightenment?

Kissinger suggests that since the algorithms of artificial intelligence are opaque to human understanding, the handover of decision-making to AI will make the ideal of rationally justified explanations and policies obsolete. To dispel the magic: Deep learning networks are designed to convert an input, such as the pixels making up an image or the shape of an auditory waveform, into a useful output, like a caption of the picture or the word that was spoken.

The network is fed millions of tidbits of information from the input, computes thousands of weighted combinations of them, then thousands of weighted combinations of the weighted combinations, and so on, each in a layer of simple units that feeds the next, culminating in a guess of the appropriate output. This is repeated millions of times, which has become feasible thanks to faster processors and bigger datasets.

For a more detailed explanation of the first generation of these models, see my books How the Mind Works and Words and Rules. But this is exactly the reason that many AI experts believe these networks, despite their recent successes, have hit a wall, and that new kinds of algorithm, probably incorporating explicit knowledge representations, will be needed to power future advances. AI is a tool, which serves at our pleasure. The other terrifying sorcery of the moment is social media, now blamed for every problem on the planet, from destroying democracy to ruining a generation the post-Millennial Generation Z or iGen, born after But before we write off Western civilization, we should keep some historical perspective.

Nyhan found that relatively little of the election-related news that circulated on social media in was fake, relatively few people were exposed to it, and not many of these were persuadable in the first place. The psychological effects of smartphones also have to be kept in historical perspective:. The psychologist who sounded this alarm in an Atlantic cover story , Jean Twenge, has done groundbreaking research on secular trends in mental health, but her popular writings are almost a caricature of how every generation panics about the kids today, first the narcissistic Millennials , now the smartphone-ruined iGens.

For one thing, the critics note, the kids are mostly all right: Compared to preceding generations, they have lower rates of alcohol abuse, smoking, crime, car accidents, pregnancy, and unprotected sex. Smartphone use may have positive, not just negative, effects on their mental health, except with extreme overuse and even that correlation may not be causal, since depressed teenagers may lose themselves in electronic distractions rather than having become depressed by them to start with.

Why were you so mean to Nietzsche? My disavowal of Nietzscheism was no digression. Therefore, humanism is the same as Nietzsche. Some people who think this way are just clueless: they have been so crippled by theistic morality that they cannot conceive of how one can ground ethics in anything other than God.

Enlightenment philosophers showed how, building on an argument from Plato. Nietzsche deployed every ounce of his considerable literary skill to imply that most human lives are worth nothing, which is the opposite of humanism. Humanism was inspired not by Nietzsche but by the Enlightenment, which Nietzsche despised. I had no right to criticize anything he said, since his writings are aphoristic, personal, non-logical, and riddled with contradictions and puzzles, so no one really knows what he meant.

Well, perhaps. Even the fact that Nietzsche was hostile to the anti-Semites and German nationalists of his day which I noted in EN turns out to be a lame defense.

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Though I make no claim to being a Nietzsche scholar, my reading of him as an anti-Enlightenment, anti-humanist thinker was based on the work of several philosophers and intellectual historians, including Bertrand Russell, Richard Wolin, Arthur Herman, James Flynn, R. Lanier Anderson, and Jonathan Glover. After EN came out, moreover, my reading was vindicated by the legal philosopher and Nietzsche scholar Brian Leiter in an essay pointedly titled Friedrich Nietzsche: The Truth is Terrible :.

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If there is no God who deems each human to be of equal worth or possessed with an immortal soul beloved by God, then why think we all deserve equal moral consideration? And what if, as Nietzsche argues, a morality of equality — and altruism and pity for suffering — were, in fact, an obstacle to human excellence? This is the less familiar and often shockingly anti-egalitarian Nietzsche.

Why did Enlightenment Now make people so mad? Let them read Proust. Many literary and cultural critics have a streak of Nietzschean Romanticism which exalts feats of artistic and historical greatness as the only authentic virtue and is indifferent to prosaic indicators of mass flourishing such as child mortality, nutrition, and literacy. More than fifty years ago, when C.

Snow valorized science for its potential to alleviate suffering in poor countries, he was assailed by the literary critic F. I suggested that the rest of the world may want the chance to decide that for themselves. This literarism makes it easy to sneer at the menial work of engineers, businesspeople, and bureaucrats in improving the human condition. Those wonks are laboring within the institutions of bourgeois modernity, seemingly vindicating them by their incremental successes. The Two Cultures. Fury from humanities scholars at any attempt to bridge the two cultures is an enduring feature of modern intellectual life.

Conflict versus Mistake. In a recent essay , Scott Alexander shines a searchlight into the foggy arena of modern disputation by distinguishing two mindsets:. Mistake theorists treat politics as science, engineering, or medicine. The State is diseased. Conflict theorists treat politics as war. Different blocs with different interests are forever fighting to determine whether the State exists to enrich the Elites or to help the People. He explains how many irreconcilable differences in the public sphere align with this cleft.

They include the value of debate and free speech, the nature of racism, the good and bad parts of democracy, the desirability of technocratic versus revolutionary solutions, and the relative merits of intellectual analysis and moral passion.

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Wrong people can be just as loud as right people, sometimes louder. Enlightenment Now not only engages in Mistake theory but sees it as the essence of the Enlightenment: Progress depends on the application of knowledge. Conflict theorists think this is just an excuse for reinforcing privilege: progress depends on the struggle for power, and the philosophes were woke avant la lettre.

People are irrational. So what were you trying to accomplish with Enlightenment Now? I wrote it for you. As it happens, many people do care about facts, and can change their minds about beliefs that are not sacred to their moral identities—especially, I was tickled to learn, when information is presented in a graph. EN has seventy-five graphs. In a study published last year, Nyhan and Jason Reifler found that graphs were effective at disabusing even political partisans of their false beliefs. As for what I hope to have accomplished, despite all my riposting and self-defending, I have no right to complain.

The response to Enlightenment Now has been rewarding beyond my grandest expectations. The letters were mostly positive and almost entirely constructive.

One was a set of invitations to confer with seven current and former heads of government or their advisors. Effective democratic leaders must have convictions about the value, indeed the nobility, of their mission. A second encouraging reaction was from journalists who are coming to appreciate the problems with the crushing negativity that has become entrenched in their professional culture.

It is driving away readers: In a recent cross-national survey, almost a third of the respondents said they avoid the news. It is misinforming them about the state of the world: Most people underperform chimpanzees in their guesses on multiple-choice questions about poverty, health, and violence. It is corroding their belief that the world can be improved: People who are least aware of human progress are most cynical about the future. And it is creating perverse incentives for terrorists, rampage shooters, tweeting politicians, and other entrepreneurs of outrage.

The third and most heartening response of all has come from readers who have shared with me the effect of reading Enlightenment Now on their lives. For the first time in my life I may have earned that credential.